An American Epidemic: Chronic Pain
Here’s a contradiction for you to ponder as you sit down, grab a coffee, and scroll through blogs on your podiatrist’s website:
Today, we have more treatments, tools, and drugs to help people manage pain than ever before, in human history. So why does the number of people suffering from chronic pain seem to keep increasing every year?
Pain on the Rise
Chronic pain is generally defined as any painful symptom that lingers longer than three months. It may be sharp or dull. It may be constant, or appear intermittently—perhaps every morning, or after exercise. But regardless of these factors, it’s long-lasting, frustrating pain that keeps you from truly living your life to the fullest.
It’s hard to get a really good estimate of how many Americans suffer from chronic pain, due to varying definitions of the term and since so many people choose to either ignore it entirely, or give up after several failed treatments. But that hasn’t stopped the medical community from trying. And the numbers we do have are worrying.
Based on a 2016 survey, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that around 70 million Americans suffer from chronic pain to some degree. Of that number, about 20 million cases are considered high-impact chronic pain—in other words, pain that’s so intense that it inhibits major life activities. Most people with high-impact chronic pain can’t work, and around a third of them even struggle to complete basic self-care tasks like dressing themselves or bathing.
And the real numbers may be worse. Other studies put the total number of Americans with chronic pain closer to 100 million—or perhaps higher.
Why Are So Many Hurting?
That’s a very good question with a very complicated answer—one that we couldn’t hope to address fully, and that medical experts still don’t fully agree on.
What we can say is that there’s no one single reason. There are perhaps dozens of contributing factors.
A few examples:
- Demographics and lifestyle. Our country is getting older; now more than 50 million Americans are over the age of 65. Combine that with a society that’s getting less exercise and eating more junk food than ever before, and you’ll see why there are so many candidates for chronic pain.
- Not seeking treatment at all. As mentioned earlier, people may choose not to treat their chronic pain for a variety of reasons, including financial difficulty or lack of health insurance coverage, giving up after previous treatments failed to help, or not even realizing that their pain can be treated in the first place.
- Lack of medical training. In researching her 2014 book A Nation in Pain, author Judy Foreman found that doctors spent barely any time at all learning about pain in medical school—about 13 to 41 hours is all. Often doctors who have never suffered from chronic pain themselves fail to grasp how serious and debilitating it can be. And because pain can be so hard to pin down, misdiagnoses do happen—for example, a doctor might diagnose a soft tissue injury when the problem is actually nerve damage. So your treatment recommendations may be far less effective than they could be.
- Lack of research funding. Chronic pain can be just as debilitating as any cancer or disease, but currently the National Institutes of Health spends barely 1 percent of its funding on pain research.
- Treatments are only temporary and symptom-based. Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with treating symptoms. We might prescribe an oral painkiller or give you a cortisone shot to provide fast-acting relief. But when the root causes of pain are not addressed, pain keeps returning. And when stronger and stronger drugs must be used more and more often to control it, other health problems and side effects begin to emerge.
The Cost of All This Pain
If you’re currently suffering from chronic pain, we certainly don’t need to tell you about how disruptive it can be in your day-to-day life.
Pain itself is bad enough, especially when it’s preventing you from enjoying your favorite hobbies, getting through your workday, or simply accomplishing basic tasks. But then you consider all the “secondary” issues caused by the pain:
- Greatly increased mental stress, including depression, anxiety, and cognitive problems. You can’t focus or concentrate because of the pain.
- Lost productivity. By some estimates more than half a trillion dollars in revenue and productivity is lost directly and indirectly to chronic pain. This includes those who want to work who can’t, those forced to miss hours or take lower-paying and part-time work, and those who must take time off to care for ailing family members.
- Development of other chronic diseases and medical conditions, as a result of both stress and inability to exercise.
So What’s the Answer?
Now, we aren’t going to pretend that we here at Burlington County Foot & Ankle Associates have all the answers. Chronic pain is an epidemic with complex, systemic causes. There’s no simple solution.
However, we can promise you that we’re doing all we can in our little corner of the country, and we’re doing our part to help make chronic foot and ankle pain a thing of the past—one patient at a time. A big part of this is about having a preference for treatments that address the root causes of chronic pain, rather than simply prescribing more drugs or cortisone shots.
One example of this type of treatment approach would be custom orthotics.
It may or may not surprise you to learn that misaligned feet and abnormal gait mechanics are among the most common causes of chronic pain not just in feet and ankles, but throughout the legs, hips, and back, too. That’s because when you don’t give your body a steady foundation, the muscles, bones, and joints above have to work harder to compensate.
Orthotics address this problem by not only supporting and cushioning your feet properly, but also repositioning them and controlling abnormal motion. This puts your body back in proper position and alleviates the painful stresses throughout.
We’re also staying on the cutting-edge of innovative and advanced pain treatments, particularly ones that are more than just a glorified band aid. A perfect example here is MLS laser therapy.
MLS laser is way more than just a pain management technique—although it’s extremely good at pain management. The twin therapeutic lasers used by the system not only bring rapid pain and inflammation relief, but they also accelerate natural biological processes that are essential for tissue regeneration—improved circulation, faster cellular metabolism and cellular repair, boosted immune function, etc.
What we’ve found—and countless clinical studies have confirmed—is that MLS laser therapy leads to dramatic improvements in chronic pain symptoms for the majority of patients with almost any form of musculoskeletal pain, after just a small handful of treatments.
Even those who have struggled with conditions like plantar fasciitis, tendinitis, arthritis, or neuropathy for years have found both their pain and their need for medications greatly reduced or even eliminated.
And unlike a cortisone shot or a handful of pills, the relief is not just temporary. Because the laser stimulates cellular repair, it’s actually healing the underlying injury—a process which has likely been stalled by chronic inflammation.
Let Us Help You with Your Chronic Foot and Ankle Pain
In the face of such a national health crisis, it’s far too easy to become discouraged or believe your pain is beyond help. But nothing could be further from the truth!
If you are currently suffering from chronic pain in your feet or ankles, give us a call today. We understand what you’re going through and what it means for your quality of life. We want to keep you walking! And we will do everything in our power to help you—using the latest and most effective research-based and curative treatments available.
You can reach the Burlington County Foot & Ankle Associates in Medford, NJ at (609) 714-0052. Or simply fill out our contact form online to have a member of our staff reach out to you.